Your Rover is Here
My heart pumps Four-Hour Surge through hellfire veins to combat the car’s lulling vibrations. My fists grip the steering wheel. Instead of squeezing, I push.
Folks later claimed she was acting strange from the moment she boarded the plane.
They described her as skittish, curt, radiating an aura of danger. Some, when confronted with the security footage, which showed her to have behaved rather unremarkably up until she bolted into the bathroom, refused to change their story. They swore nine ways till Sunday that they saw what they saw, that CCTV lenses simply failed to capture the malevolent glint they’d caught in her eyes.
I noticed no such thing. To me, she was just another passenger, another hand presenting a ticket stub, a faceless body to be directed down the appropriate aisle. Later, when I was walking down the cabin to make sure all seatbelts were securely fastened, I did notice an edge to her polite smile, but it struck me as more frazzled than threatening. Just another nervous flyer.
During the multitude of protracted inquiries and trials that followed the incident, she never changed her position; she admitted, without caveat, that she’d made a foolish mistake. The masses, however, demanded a more compelling story, something on which to project their fear, a culprit more substantial than a mere fumble.
Her defenders insisted on painting her as a victim of environmental pressures. She was battling the state for custody of her three children, and her employers were in the midst of a massive retrenchment campaign, and her building was going co-op, and her widowed mother had recently passed and left her with massive medical bills, and she was having to travel back and forth to manage all the various crises, and, and, and … The system failed her, they claimed. Some went as far as to hold the airline responsible. How, they asked, could we have allowed this to happen? People like her have existed since the dawn of history. How could we have been so unprepared?
It’s sad to think that casting blame on the airline may have caused her ultimate undoing. The moment corporate profits were in jeopardy, the debate got ugly. Some big law firm with too many old-money names on the letterhead got involved, and they had no qualm stoking prejudice to redirect blame. In the eyes of the public, they made her into a monster.
The first clear memory I have of her is one of beautiful weariness. The last rays of the setting sun were dancing on the ridges and valleys of her features, highlighting her capable but rushed faux-natural makeup. She looked exhausted but oddly wistful as she stared out the window, her body slumped in the stiff seat, her attention lost in the vast stretch of clouds.
She turned to me, cheeks twitching into a reflexive smile. “Excuse me?” she asked, blinking in confusion.
“Would you like something to drink?” I repeated.
She clocked the cart in front of me. “Oh. Uh … no. Thank you.”
I made to move on to the next passenger—the practiced script already playing out in my head, the words, hollowed out of meaning by countless repetitions, already forming on my tongue—when she jerked upright.
The sudden motion caught my attention, drawing me back to her, only to see her expression solidify into a mask of pure dread. Her jaw dropped, nostrils flaring, terror shimmering in her wide-open eyes. “Oh no.” Barely a whisper, the two syllables tumbling out of trembling lips.
She leapt out of her seat. One moment, she was sitting there, her stance comfortably familiar, and the next, her knees were to her chest and she was propelling herself through the air with the grace of a wild animal. I ducked.
She hit the drink cart. Some of the bottles and cartons toppled and spilled, producing a burst of startled yelps. I dropped to the floor as she vaulted over me. By the time I looked over my shoulder, she was already racing to the bathroom at the tail end of the plane, shooting past confused faces without a backwards glance.
She tried the stall on the left, found it locked, and let out a distressed moan before crashing against the right stall. The door gave way, and she disappeared, slamming the lock in place.
Murmurs filled the cabin. I felt the weight of countless gazes as I straightened.
My brain registered a grumbled complaint from a nearby passenger, and the hardwired reflexes of a service job snapped me out my shock. I grabbed a handful of napkins and offered them, rather helplessly, to the pair who’d just been doused in fruit juice and milk. “I’m so very sorry,” I professed as I straightened the toppled bottles and cartons. “I’ll get a bigger cloth.”
Their questioning frowns followed me as I made my way down the aisle.
Ayanda and Sam caught up with me by the bathrooms, wanting to know what had happened. I’d worked shifts with them before and knew that if I indulged their curiosity, they’d get distracted. What they needed were clear instructions, a task to keep them out of the way. I sent Sam to address the spill and asked Ayanda to find Naseem, our crew leader.
I gently knocked on the bathroom door. “Are you alright?”
When I didn’t get an answer, I listened more closely. She was doing her best to stifle the sound, but there was no mistaking it: she was sobbing.
“Please, tell me how we can help.”
“You have to …” Her voice cracked. She was struggling to get the words out. “You have to land the plane.”
At that point, I probably should have been worried, but I still saw her as an uncomfortable flyer—a particularly dramatic one, to be sure, but I simply couldn’t imagine such a ludicrous request was coming from a reasonable place.
“We can’t help unless you tell us what’s wrong.”
“I … I’m so sorry …” she hiccuped. “I … lost count … of the days …” The last words turned into a soft whine.
I’m not sure what it was about her voice, maybe how genuine and visceral her dismay felt even through the locked door, but it jogged something in my memory. The connection wasn’t fully formed yet, more like a faint tugging at the back of my mind.
Before I could get a firm grasp on it, Ayanda returned with Naseem. I delivered my report, sticking to the facts, which made for a short list. “She lost count of the days?” Naseem repeated.
I shrugged. Now that a supervisor was on the scene, I was only too glad to take a sheepish step back.
Naseem knocked on the door. “Ma’am? Are you in need of medical help?”
We strained our ears, hoping to catch a response. All we heard was a faint raspy breath.
We jumped when the door to the toilet stall behind us swung open but made a quick recovery. The passenger frowned at our plastered smiles.
“Please,” Naseem recited without missing a beat, “could we ask you to return to your seat?”
The passenger’s confusion only increased upon sensing the sickly sweet density of fresh drama permeating the cabin.
Then came the moan. It was an otherworldly sound, a snarl biting down on a whimper.
Instead of reacting, Naseem punctuated the polite instruction with a graceful, if insistent, wave down the aisle. Our smiles never faltered, as though none of us could hear the inarticulate groans coming from the locked stall. Cowed by our lack of shock, the passenger had no choice but to obey.
Naseem leaned towards Ayanda and whispered, “Go help Sam keep the herd in check.”
I never much liked that sort of dehumanizing language when referring to our guests, but as I followed Ayanda with my gaze, the wording did feel appropriate. The herd was definitely getting restless. An economy class cabin is a powder-keg of tension on the best of days, a myriad of mild annoyances crammed into a flying steel tube; in such an atmosphere, mysteries are best avoided.
Naseem gave another rap on the still-locked bathroom door. “Ma’am? We need to know what’s going on.”
Nothing. The strange moaning had stopped.
The door unlocked. We both took a step back.
She opened it only a sliver, tossed something at our feet, then slammed the door and locked it shut.
I bent down to pick up a small medical bracelet. Again, memory tugged at the back of my mind. I flipped it over, unaware that my life was about to change forever, and found a small tag branded with three simple letters: LYC.
The same panic I had read in her eyes filled my chest, and the same helpless words floated out of my mouth. “Oh no.”
My aunt’s husband was diagnosed with lycanthropy as an infant.
He was one of the lucky ones, especially back then. Many in his situation were murdered during episodes, attacked on sight, all too often by a loved one or relative. Some simply ran off into the night, reappearing weeks, months, sometimes years later as nameless corpses in a ditch. Most kept their condition a secret as they strove for normal lives, shouldering the burden alone for as long as they could.
Strange condition, lycanthropy. The overwhelming instinct among those afflicted is to hide it, even as toddlers. To cower in fear and silence, until the moon passes. It’s as though they know, even at a young age, how catastrophically a bad encounter can go.
That’s all most folks know, the bad encounters. Tragic affairs. Gaping bullet wounds from a rifle wielded in panic, flesh torn open by teeth and bare hands, buckets of blood spilled in misinformed self-defense.
My uncle was one of the loveliest men I’ve ever known. He wasn’t without his flaws, but he brought a touch of tenderness to everything he did, every task, every word, every smile. I think it was his way of tipping the balance, of making up for his behavior during episodes.
I found out about his condition at the inquisitive and impressionable age of five, upon asking my parents why my aunt and uncle didn’t have children. They told me it wouldn’t be safe, and proceeded to impart their best understanding of lycanthropy. For all their vague gesturing at the need for compassion, not just for my uncle, but anyone in his situation, the emphasis was on the threat, the ever-present risk of harm, most especially for a child. I was afraid of him for years. The messed-up part is that he might well have agreed with their assessment. I never had the courage to ask him directly.
I did eventually ask my aunt, though. By then, I had realized my parents could be wrong about a great many things, and was eager to make up my own mind. Besides, the man was a sweetheart; I simply couldn’t imagine him as dangerous. My aunt did a better job of explaining it. She told me that once a month, he had a bad night. They knew about it, they were prepared for it, and they made it through, moon after moon. She explained that, yes, the decision not to have children was about protecting a potential offspring, but not at all in the way my parents told it. My uncle simply couldn’t bear to pass down his affliction to a child.
I ended up doing a whole bunch of research on my own, and his concern did have some basis. The condition is very much hereditary, we know this. Thing is, though, the mutation lies dormant in roughly half the cases, sometimes for generations. Nowadays, with the right pre-natal medication, the odds of genetic transference are less than one in three hundred. That’s nothing.
I like to believe they might have given it a shot, if they’d had access to those treatments back then. Not that it matters. Those two seemed at peace with their lot. And I, for one, found their devotion to each other, free of any procreational rationale, rather inspiring.
He did try lyco-suppressants when they became widely available, to alleviate the symptoms of his episodes. He and my aunt agreed it did wonders for his disposition under a full moon but the treatments soured him the rest of the time. He became brooding, withdrawn, his infectious laughter replaced by tired chuckles. I’m sure the right cocktail of suppressants would have balanced out the side-effects, but his doctor wasn’t really that committed to a solution. Past a certain age, cases become less interesting, too bogged down in old habits to provide an easy and cathartic breakthrough.
I managed to persuade them to let me stay over a few times, just to see his transformation for myself. Mostly, I made tea, keeping my aunt hydrated while she read out loud from his favorite books. I watched as my funny, gentle, loving uncle cowered at the end of the sofa, curled up in a trembling ball.
He was barely in his sixties, with plenty good years still ahead of him, when he died. He’d been having a particularly bad moon, my aunt wasn’t up to it alone, and nobody was there to help. She was sobbing when she called me. I told her to call emergency services and got there as fast as I could. The police officers involved insisted they were only trying to subdue him. His heart gave out sometimes between the third and fourth taser shot.
His funeral was well attended. I met folks from his support group there. They all had that same quality I loved so much in him, that deliberate gentleness, that mischievous softness in their eyes.
Months later, I was clearing space off my phone when I stumbled on an app I’d installed to keep track of the moon’s phases. I’d made a habit of calling my aunt and uncle after each full moon to see how they were holding up. I was still in touch with her, but keeping count of the days was no longer relevant. I almost uninstalled the app, but sentimentality stayed my hand. I figured, if I was thinking about him, I could check how the moon was doing, see what kind of day he’d be having if he were still alive.
This romantic fantasy never materialized. The next time I opened the app was on that plane, outside a locked bathroom stall.
Naseem blinked, eyes darting from the bracelet tag to my phone’s screen, where the open app announced, in no uncertain terms, a full moon.
“No.” The word hopped out of Naseem’s mouth, absurd and utterly inadequate. “No, that’s ridiculous. She’s …”
“… living with lycanthropy, yes,” I completed in a whisper, “and she’s on the cusp on an episode. What do we do?”
Naseem blinked again, face growing slack. “A werewolf on a plane?”
The casual use of the slur was concerning enough, but the expression of blank incredulity made it so much worse. I knew, right there and then, that Naseem was not equipped to deal with the situation.
“She’s right,” I declared. “We need to land. I’ll stay here. Go tell the captain.”
“You can’t stay here. None of us can stay.” I could hear an edge of panic creeping up with every word. “We have to—”
I grabbed my supervisor’s arm, tight enough to hurt, and did my best to counter the stunned gaze with a show of determination. “Go tell the captain. Once we land, we get everyone out, lock the plane, and call a trained expert. Nobody gets hurt. Okay?”
Naseem nodded, much to my relief, before setting off, chin up, towards the front of the plane, smoothing imaginary wrinkles in the pristine flight-attendant uniform.
I stepped up to the door. “I know speaking is difficult for you right now, so let’s keep it simple, okay? Can you do one knock for yes, two for no?”
There was a pause, then she knocked once.
“Good. We’re going to figure this out, alright?”
“Alright?” I insisted.
One knock, followed by a soft mewling.
“Have you hydrated in the last four hours?”
She knocked once, twice. I wasn’t surprised. If she’d remembered to drink generously ahead of the episode, she would have remembered not to get on a place in the first place.
“Can you manage the tap?”
I heard her shuffle around, then a messy splash of water. Finally, a loud sigh.
A single weary knock.
“You’re doing great. Remember to keep track of your breathing, yeah? In through the nose, one-two-three, out through the mouth, one-two-three-four. Do it with me now.”
I repeated the breathing pattern until I could hear her matching me.
“There we go. See? You’re doing great.” This, of course, led me to the difficult question. “I’m sorry to have to ask, but are you on a lyco-suppressant treatment?” I did my best to mask my bluntness with a casual tone, but I knew she wasn’t fooled. She understood, better than most, how much was riding on her answer.
One knock. I held my breath, dreading a second. It didn’t come.
I exhaled in relief. “That’s g …” I swallowed. “That’s really good.” Suppressants meant physical restraints would be a last resort rather than a pressing Plan B. It meant that as long as we kept a cool head, we had a real chance of getting through this. “My supervisor is notifying the captain. I’m sure they’re already searching for the nearest airport. Nobody is going to get hurt. Do you understand?”
One knock. She moved in closer, her ragged breath heavy against the door. “… han … k … yo … oooouuu …” she moaned.
“We’ll be okay. Everything will be okay.” I’m still not sure who I was trying to convince.
A few minutes later, Naseem came back with a man I did not recognize. He introduced himself with a rank and a surname. “I’m the air marshal,” he declared, his clipped tone oozing self-importance. “What’s our status?”
I found his broad-chested bravado alarming from the onset but figured I could shift his attitude if I led by example. “She’s experiencing the early symptoms of a lycanthropic episode,” I explained in as calm a voice as I could manage. “Loss of speech, dehydration, severe paranoia, most likely the beginning of morphological shifts—”
“So, she’s already turned,” he summarized, most inaccurately. “Right.” His serious gaze shifted to Naseem. “I got this. Do what you gotta do.”
Naseem nodded and looked at me. “Come along, now.”
I wanted to stay. This man, this marshal, couldn’t be trusted to handle the woman in the stall. I knew his type: talks a big game but acts the fool when push comes to shove. Not to mention he might be armed.
That realization hit me like a punch. I found myself praying he didn’t have a taser hidden somewhere on his person, and, in retrospect, I regret that wish. I know it didn’t ultimately impact the outcome, but my god, if only it had been a taser. She was in her prime. She could’ve taken the shock. It would still have been assault, still violence, but in that man’s hands, a taser would have been a blessing. Hell, a miracle.
None of that mattered, then. Not my worry, nor my intuition. A service job is a service job. Work this kind of gig long enough and following the old chain of command becomes second-nature.
I turned back to the door. “Hey, listen, I have to go now, but I need you to keep drinking and breathing while I’m gone. Can you do that?”
She clawed at the door, whimpering. Begging me not to abandon her.
“Hey, no, none of that,” was the best I could manage. “You’ve got this. You have to trust me, okay?” I know she could hear the plea in my voice. Please, just say yes. Just try.
She took a loud gasping breath, then knocked once.
I patted the door, whispered, “Attagirl,” then turned back to Naseem and the marshal, meeting their dubious expression with a blank face. “She takes medication,” I declared. “She’s only dangerous if we make her.”
“Don’t you worry,” the marshal replied. “The situation is well under control.” I’m sure, in his mind, he came across as confident.
As I walked away, I watched him station himself opposite the door, arms crossed, staring down an imaginary foe.
Naseem led me to the galley, where Ayanda and Sam were waiting, the former staring at the floor, eyes vacant, the latter looking distinctly grey in the face. I surmised they’d been updated on the situation.
“We’re heading back to land,” Naseem announced, “but it’ll be at least an hour before we can let the passengers out. So, in the meantime, we’re evacuating the tail compartment. We’ll fit however many we can in the rest of coach, and send everyone else to business and first.”
For a moment, I swear, my brain just froze. I could not believe that was the plan.
Sam whistled and said, “Nobody’s gonna like that.”
I mean, talk about an understatement. They had no idea. Not one of them had the faintest clue what we were dealing with.
“No,” Naseem agreed gravely, “but we don’t have a choice.”
“Of course we do,” I interjected, my throat unexpectedly parched. “Tell the passengers we have to land due to a medical emergency and offer them a complimentary … whatever, doesn’t matter. Keep them seated and keep them calm.”
Ayanda gaped at me. “Are you mad? What if it gets out?”
It. Spoken in that clipped tone, with that edge. How quickly personhood gets stripped away. “She’s fine,” I replied, regaining control of my voice. “An hour’s nothing.” I concentrated on Naseem. “I can keep her steady for that long. I know I can.”
Naseem’s face didn’t soften. “Absolutely not. We can’t risk—”
“… a stir,” I hissed. “That’s what we can’t risk. If we treat her as dangerous, she will read that as being in danger.”
Sam scoffed. “She’s dangerous no matter what we do.”
“The captain made the call,” Naseem snapped, glaring at me.
I knew that tone. Most of us do, on instinct. The voice of hierarchical logic demanding blind participation. “Okay,” I conceded, helpless, my heart racing, “but at least let me go back to—”
“You will do as you’re told and that’s that!” Naseem squeaked, eyes wide. The edge of panic from earlier was back in full force, bursting past the calm facade.
It was there on all their faces, their features pinched against the onslaught. God, but they were terrified. Even more than that poor woman locked in the bathroom. And it didn’t matter that her fear was, at a chemical level, infinitely more real than their foolish superstition; I knew she’d be able to keep her shit together far better than they would theirs. And if the crew lost control of the cabin … well.
I had to make sure they did their job. Which meant doing mine. So, I shut my mouth and listened to my supervisor’s orders.
A few minutes later, Naseem’s voice came chirping out of the PA system. “Ladies and gentlemen, your attention please.”
The passengers, starved for an explanation, perked up on cue.
I’ll give it to Naseem, the announcement of the evacuation was an impressive display of steel-clad nerves. The wording treaded a perfect line between calm and curt, overwhelmingly polite but projecting that unmistakable air of intransigence. Please, leave your belongings at your seat and make your way to the front of the plane. We thank you for your cooperation at this time … All that good stuff. Whatever else, Naseem was always a consummate professional.
Nothing was said to connect the impromptu relocation to the drinking-cart incident, but many of the passengers still eyed the back of the cabin. The marshal didn’t even acknowledge their questioning looks; his attention still firmly planted on the bathroom door. I could tell, from his tense posture, that he felt those gazes on him, but he didn’t even try to defuse the tension. Amateur.
“This is a mistake,” Ayanda whispered past a plastered smile, eyes betraying visceral terror. “She can hear this. She knows we’re … taking away her food.”
I couldn’t believe my colleague, someone I’d considered a friend and a decent person in the most basic sense, could say something so vile. The horror of it was too much to contemplate in that moment, so I just gnashed my teeth and focused on the fact Ayanda had at least gotten the pronouns right this time.
With the announcement over, we proceeded to repeating the same instructions all over again at a more interpersonal level, now punctuated with practiced mime-work. We did our best to stick to our roles, but we could feel the ambient tension rise. Amiable smiles only work so far; in the wrong light, they’re little more than grimaces.
Luckily, artificial authority works both ways. Even someone who’s never been on a plane knows to treat PA announcements as the word of God, and the gesturing flight attendants as anointed prophets. Dubious though they may have been, the passengers got out of their seats without asking too many questions.
Someone at the front of the plane argued that if we were giving away spots in first class, they should go to business passengers before anyone from coach, which significantly slowed down the overall process. Ironically, those who complied to our instructions fastest and got ready first were forced to stand around for a solid fifteen minutes. We grinned through it, begging for their patience while constantly reiterating the terms of the evacuation to those who insisted on offloading their carry-ons from the overhead storage.
As I worked, I kept darting glances towards the bathroom. The marshal never shifted from his post, his back against the empty stall, always at a safe arm’s length from the locked door. He kept rolling his shoulders and rearranging the flaps of his open jacket. I’d watched enough police procedurals to recognize that body language. He was wearing a shoulder holster. Imagining the implications twisted my insides to the point of nausea but I kept working, kept smiling.
As I’d expected, by the time the last rows of passengers were edging out of the tail compartment, we were already making our descent. The whole tense ordeal, and the effort it took for us to manage it, had been a complete waste, but at least, I figured, we were practically done. We were almost there.
Then the other shoe dropped.
Most descents are a breeze. Yes, sometimes we hit unexpected pressure pockets, but compensating for them is easy enough. That is, if the aircraft is properly balanced, which ours very much was not. Coach is by far the biggest compartment on any commercial flight, and we’d just emptied the rear half of it into the front of the plane, so when the craft dipped between two layers of clouds, it dipped hard.
The engines roared amidst a chorus of screams. Anything and anyone that wasn’t fastened down went flying, me included. My chest hit an armrest on the way back down, and I felt a distinct pop. As I landed in the middle of the aisle, a burning pressure blossomed in my ribs, choking down my breath.
The pilot managed to steady the plane, but the screams persisted. One in particular stretched loud and true, coming from that locked bathroom, a scream which, in the sudden encroaching silence, turned into an all-too-familiar sound.
That was the moment—the point of no return. Up until then, we’d had a chance, slim and getting slimmer, but still a chance. If I’d been by that door, I would never have let it get that bad. I would have gotten into that stall, even if it meant prying open the lock, and I would’ve hugged her, pressing my humanity right up against hers for as long as it took her to understand she was not alone.
Her howl filled the plane, and, for a moment, it was beautiful.
In most Indigenous cultures, people who live with lycanthropy serve a crucial function in the social fabric. Colonial narratives often describe them as witch-doctors or shamans, but such framings have a way of exotifying what are, in fact, far more practical responses to the condition.
The way a friend of mine explained it, such individuals are valued for their unique sensibilities, their ability to discern the sort of unaddressed emotional currents most folks ignore as a matter of habit. Every moon, this ‘attuned’ person embodies the sum total of those undercurrents, serving as a sort of litmus test for the health of the community as a whole. To grossly oversimplify, it’s a monthly vibe check.
Among certain people, the role extends even further. Some claim that, if given the opportunity to experience these hyper-sensibilities from a place of safety and nurture, the ‘attuned’ is able to extend awareness beyond their fellow humans and commune with the land itself. I’m not sure I’m ready to believe all that, but I can see the sense in it.
Spiritual histories notwithstanding, the hyper-awareness itself is well documented. Multiple and protracted medical experiments—some of which, given the lack of basic ethics on display, clearly held no particular affection for their subjects—have reliably measured the phenomenon.
Some academics have even gone so far as to identify it as the primary reason for the prevalence of anti-lycanthropy sentiments in modern societies. They argue that, in any vertical hierarchy, the people at the top will invariably see the vibe-check aspect as a threat to their position. After all, sweeping injustice under the rug is all but impossible if the misery of the exploited masses is made manifest on a monthly basis. So, for generations, whoever benefitted from a power imbalance had a vested interest in spreading a counter-narrative, one in which the canary in the coal mine got repainted as an agent of violence.
In an effort to correct this misrepresentation, activists have recently reclaimed lycanthropy as a rallying issue, casting those who experience episodes as truth-tellers destined to lead the revolution. They’ve been known to howl en masse during protests. Parties more invested in a medicalized approach have condemned such practices as ableist and appropriative, though they themselves have been criticized for their over-reliance on market (i.e., profit-driven) solutions. And on and on it goes.
Language, here, is important. The W-word isn’t just another descriptor. Its very etymology betrays a deliberate dehumanizing intent. By design, it conjures up images of fur-covered bipedal hybrids animated by a singular urge to sink claws and fangs into flesh, when the reality of the transformation—while admittedly somewhat lupine-looking, if one squints—isn’t nearly that impressive.
Most of it is just swelling. Body hair, wherever it should occur, stands on end; the sinuses and throat open up, forcing the surrounding bone and sinew to jut outwards; the ribcage expands to give the lungs extra room; and massive amounts of oxygen get pumped into the muscles. Due to the negative propaganda, most folks assume these are the signs of a body preparing for a rampage, which couldn’t be farther from the truth. Every morphological change that occurs during episodes is consistent with the facilitation of a singular goal: to escape.
The marshal pulled out his gun. “Freeze!” he yelled.
The sudden turbulence had weakened the spell we’d so painstakingly maintained over the passengers, but his introduction of a firearm obliterated it. Panic coursed through the plane.
From behind me came the crashing of bodies as the passengers jostled and rushed for safety, the gasps and snarls and shrieks, everyone for themselves. In front of me, the walls of the bathroom stall shook as the woman thrashed and wailed, unable to contain the sudden onslaught of raw, visceral, unfiltered terror.
The marshal’s paper-thin confidence cracked. “Get back!” he barked. “Now! I will shoot!”
She responded in kind, tit for tat, intimidation for intimidation; a last-ditch effort to communicate in his chosen language. She belted out a bone-chilling roar.
The choice between fight and flight really does happen in a matter of heartbeats. In different circumstances, he might have gone for the latter. He did back off, reflexively, unsteadily, the first step of what could well have turned into a scrambled escape. But he was holding a gun, finger on the trigger, safety off. He was already locked on fight.
The gunshots sliced through the chaos, sharp as an open-handed slap. Aimed straight at that minuscule stall.
Her roar twisted into a wounded yelp. My breath caught.
She burst out of the bathroom. The door flew clean off its hinges and slammed the marshal against the opposite stall. He crumpled like a ragdoll.
And there she was, hirsute, hunched, seething, clothes torn at the seams, blood gushing from a chest wound, down her stomach, down her legs, dripping on the floor.
I realized I was screaming, begging, pleading. Stop. Just stop.
Her eyes spun, jaw slack, swollen face streaked with tears. She looked down the aisle to find pure fear, a stampeding, trampling pile of it. Those fools thought she was looking at them, but she only wanted a way out. She was standing at the end of a steel tube next to the man who’d just shot her. Where else was she gonna go?
She came barreling down the aisle and leapt over me without missing a step. The writhing mass of passengers parted before her. Those who were too slow, she either dodged or shoved aside.
For reasons I still cannot fathom, Naseem decided to bar her way. Made a pretty good show of it, too: arms spread out, head held high, face set in a look of righteous determination. The woman actually had to skid to a halt, if only to redirect her momentum.
This brief halt is, supposedly, what prompted the marshal to open fire again. He had, according to some experts, been trained to take advantage of stationary targets, so that’s what he did. A thin argument, considering he was firing directly at a crowd of bystanders—very much not a part of his training. Besides, the why of it isn’t all that relevant. What matters, at least to me, is that the woman ducked, and Naseem did not. Bursts of crimson soaked the pastel blue of the flight-attendant uniform.
I whirled back to the marshal, found him half-slumped under the lavatory sign, one arm dangling from his shoulder at an odd angle, the other brandished unsteadily, a shaky fist wrapped around that absurd and deadly penis-substitute.
She cut sideways, fleeing the exposed aisle, and the idiot just kept on firing, bleating like a frustrated child as he kept missing her. Pah! Pah! Pah! The muzzle flashes bright in the flickering lights of the once-again-careening plane.
She really tried. Say what you will, but nobody can deny she did her goddamn utmost, darting and weaving, even drawing his fire away from the passengers, but he just wouldn’t stop. So she doubled back to address the pressing threat he posed to everyone on the plane. Again, what else what she supposed to do?
He went right on pressing that trigger even as she tackled him to the ground. One of the last bullets he fired ricocheted somewhere behind me. I felt a sharp pain in my lower back and collapsed.
The marshal let out a squeal of agony. His arm landed with a wet flop in the middle of the aisle, a limp finger still caught in the trigger guard. I’ll admit, tearing off his arm wasn’t the most elegant solution, but it got the job done. The bullets stopped.
She scrambled away from the marshal and spun, ready to resume her escape.
Summoning every shred of strength I had left, I screamed, “LOOK AT ME!”
She did. She saw the growing puddle of blood around my limp legs, the way I was hugging my aching ribs, reaching out for her with my eyes, my voice, my everything—dragging myself, however unsuccessfully, not away but toward her.
Lycanthropy-affected faces are hard to read, but I swear I saw it. A subtle shift of focus from ambient fear to ambient pain. By then, there was more than enough of the latter to tip the balance.
I held her horrified gaze and forced myself to smile. “Hey,” I managed weakly, my voice shattered. I extended an open hand. “Come here.”
She approached me tentatively, low to the floor, confused nasal whines escaping her drooling mouth. Everything faded away. The plane, the passengers, even her haunting appearance. All I saw were her eyes, coming back to me again and again, until she was close enough that I could see myself in them.
I found purchase on the curve of her shoulder and pulled myself up. My body protested, what little of it I could still feel, but I didn’t care. I couldn’t. I was finally hugging her.
“Stay with me,” I whispered.
The last thing I remember from that day is the tenderness with which she scooped me from the floor and carried me onto a nearby seat, the way she cradled me, cooing softly into my ear, until I drifted to black.
That’s how they found us, cuddled up together on the cramped bench. By then, she too was unconscious. Even an adrenaline-addled brain needs a healthy flow of oxygen to function, and a whole lot of her blood was splattered all over the cabin. They still shot her full of tranquilizer, just to be safe. It’s a miracle she survived.
Others weren’t so fortunate. Twelve, to be exact.
Three were done in by blunt-force trauma, either during the plane dive or in the subsequent stampede. All three had made it out of the plane alive, only to circle the drain in the following hours. Internal bleeding is a bitch.
Two suffocated when bodies started piling up, crushed under the weight of fear, gasping for air but unable to draw breath. One was a nine-year-old child who, according to the parents, loved unicorns and monster trucks. The other was a twenty-seven-year-old flight attendant named Ayanda, who may have held some deplorable beliefs but still deserved better.
Six were killed by bullets. Ironically, of those six, Naseem took the longest to die, making it all the way past the operating room and into the ICU. A spectacular overachiever to the very last. On the opposite end of that spectrum was Sam, whose death was instantaneous. Clean headshot, in at the base of the skull, out just above the brow ridge.
The twelfth casualty was the marshal. After being disarmed, he managed to lock himself in the bathroom stall that still had a door, then swiftly fainted from blood-loss. He was dead by the time first-responders thought to check the lavatories.
Of all the charges laid at the woman’s feet in the ensuing trial, his death was the one that stuck. Aggravated manslaughter. Her lawyer went all out on a self-defense argument, spending a solid hour on ballistics mapping to show how every single one of the bullets the marshal fired hit at least one human body. It was a bold move, to cast her as a surprise anti-hero whose gruesome actions had saved lives. Perhaps too bold, given the prevailing mood.
Elsewhere, in a different trial, the survivors, the victims, and their families were suing a multinational corporation and a whole security apparatus for massive damages. Big money and big power were going out of their way to claim that, despite a few systematic blind spots, the whole mess was still mostly her fault, because she, and she alone, had decided to bring her monstrosity onto that plane. I wish their campaign hadn’t been so effective, if not for her sake then for mine. As a beneficiary of that lawsuit, I could have received a better pension.
I first visited her in prison as an assignment from my psychologist. Spending time with her could, in theory, help me contextualize and therefore manage some of my post-traumatic symptoms.
Within a few minutes, she complimented my wheelchair. She was especially drawn to the practicality of having so many pouches and pockets always at hand. I explained how those attachments were so grueling to find on the market that I’d ended up teaching myself to sew so I could make them for myself. She was appalled but not surprised. She marveled at my cross-stitching.
I go see her once a month, during new moons. It was her idea. That way, she says, I get to see her at her best, at her most rested and grateful. We don’t talk about full moons. I’ve been trying to find out what the prison does with her during episodes, but the administration is cagey about their protocol. My guess is solitary confinement, which isn’t ideal, but could be worse. In isolation, at least, she would only have herself to manage.
She talks about her children a lot and brings pictures of them to every visitation. She hasn’t received any new snapshots in a while, but she doesn’t let it bother her. She doesn’t even mind seeing her little ones pose with the strangers who are raising them. She just beams at their faces. She tells me she looks forward to introducing me. I know the likelihood of that happening, at this point, is microscopic, and I know she knows it too. I tell her I can’t wait.
My heart pumps Four-Hour Surge through hellfire veins to combat the car’s lulling vibrations. My fists grip the steering wheel. Instead of squeezing, I push.
She surfaced again last night, the creature, to say more riddles. There is no malice in the way she speaks, as if she either cannot
It comes with age, she said. Your skin grows tough and strong, until it doesn’t feel the pain. I believed her, then.